a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.
Then back off, and where you go? Box of words
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.
Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.
They wait and touch and watch their dreams
eat the morning.
Amiri Baraka writing and politics were not always controversial. Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey in 1934. After several years in college, he spent three years in the Air Force during the Korean War. When he fulfilled his military service, he returned to New York City and attended Columbia University. It was there that his journey as a poet began.
Baraka’s legacy as a writer, critic, playwright, novelist and publisher is complicated. He is less remembered for his well crafted beat poetry published under LeRoi Jones early in his career, while living in Greenwich Village and more remembered as a controversial, thought provoking, Black Nationalist during the civil rights movement and beyond, published under Amiri Baraka. Baraka would visit Cuba in 1959 and would return an unapologetic Marxist. Following the death of Malcolm X, he would take his writing to a new level of political intensity that empowered many and angered a few. Baraka’s intent was to move people to action through his art and both responses seemed aligned with his purpose.
Baraka’s greatest influence as a writer came in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, though he continued to write and perform up until his death in 2014. Baraka was a friend of Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara and other beat writers in the 1950’s. Baraka was a jazz poet and a scholar and music critic of both jazz and blues. The video below, shot a few years before his death is a great example of his vibrant style in combining his art, love of music and politics and the power of all three to improve the human condition.
A Short Speech To My Friends (Excerpt)
by Amiri Baraka
A political art, let it be
tenderness, low strings the fingers
touch, or the width of autumn
climbing wider avenues, among the virtue
and dignity of knowing what city
you’re in, who to talk to, what clothes
—even what buttons—to wear. I address
/ the society
the image, of
/ The perversity
of separation, isolation,
after so many years of trying to enter their kingdoms,
now they suffer in tears, these others, saxophones whining
through the wooden doors of their less than gracious homes.
The poor have become our creators. The black. The thoroughly
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
As A Possible Lover
by Amiri Baraka (1934 – 2014)
silence, the way of wind
in early lull. Cold morning
to night, we go so
to ourselves. (Enough
to have thought
finishes it. What
you are, will have
no certainty, or
end. That you will
stay, where you are,
a human gentle wisp
of life. Ah . . . . ) . . practices
as a virtue. A single
what you have